Digby’s municipal council has given Scotian Windfields what it asked for—an opportunity to develop community scale wind turbines in Digby County.
The Municipality of Digby council voted June 27 to approve amendments to its year-old bylaw governing wind turbines.
“I see this as a good opportunity to look at renewable energy projects here in the county,” says deputy warden Jimmy MacAlpine.
“This could help us reduce the tax burden on residents and might even allow us to generate some extra revenue.”
The amendments create a new mid-range or ‘community’ class of wind turbine and allow operators to sell any surplus energy.
Under the original bylaw, only operators of large utility scale turbines could sell electricity. Operators of smaller domestic wind turbines had to use all the energy they produced on site.
Scotian Windfields, the company that developed the wind farm in Gulliver’s Cove, asked council in February to establish the mid-range or community scale of turbine.
Such projects could qualify for a new program offered under the provincial government’s renewable electricity plan that was conceived to help the province reach its goal of generating 25 per cent of Nova Scotia’s electricity through renewable sources by 2015.
The province has established a community-based feed-in tariff (COMFIT) to encourage the generation of electricity from low-impact renewable sources, such as wind, biomass, tidal and hydro. Only municipalities, First Nations, co-operatives or community economic development corporations qualify for COMFIT.
The municipality’s old windmill bylaw required the electricity produced by windmills producing less than 100kw to be consumed on site. This would not have allowed any wind projects in the county to participate in the COMFIT program.
Before the regular council meeting June 20, council held a public hearing on the amendments. A dozen residents attended in support of the four who spoke.
The speakers suggested council put restrictions in the bylaw that would allow COMFIT-size projects to proceed but not open a backdoor for large clusters or large-sized windmills.
Suggestions included increasing setbacks, limiting the number of towers on a lot and requiring developers to seek approval from abutting landowners.
The presenters and supporters left after the hearing, and before the regular council session.
“I was totally naïve,” says Shirley Langpohl. “I thought this council was genuinely concerned and believed they would give our comments due consideration.”
The first item on council’s agenda after a presentation on transportation was the amendments.
Deputy warden Jimmy MacAlpine put questions both to planner Chris Millier and to council itself, questions he says he gathered by listening to the presenters. Coun. David Tudor expressed some concerns about the number of turbines that might be placed in or near communities but in the end felt the restrictions on COMFIT wouldn’t in reality allow large clusters of farms to be developed here.
The COMFIT program has a province-wide quota of only 100 MW and the electricity must be sold locally.
MacAlpine says the grid is also not currently capable of supporting any large-scale farms.
Warden Linda Gregory said adding a limit on the number of turbines per lot would be an easy change to make to the bylaw.
Coun. Randall Amero, a board member with Bay Wind, has recused himself from all discussion of wind turbine bylaws.
Coun. Maritza Adams did not comment but moved the amendments be approved. MacAlpine seconded and council voted 3-1 to approve the amendments with Gregory voting against the motion.
“That’s the decision of council and I stand by the council,” said Gregory the next day. “The councilors listened to the concerns and how they came to their individual decisions, that’s for them to say.”
Langpohl says the speed of the deliberations was disappointing.
“It takes courage to stand up there as an advocate for your community. They should be delighted to have input from citizens but instead they are more interested in responding to the industry’s concerns.
“I thought if residents raised concerns, they were going to take some time to consider it. I don’t expect them to necessarily agree with our view but I thought they would give it due consideration.”
The bylaw now goes to the province to approve the amendments and then, the municipality must advertise the amendments at which time they go into effect.
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